Teaching is hard. Staying in the teaching profession can sometimes be even harder. There’s a lack of national data about attrition, but the Queensland College of Teachers estimates anywhere between 8-50% of new teachers leave the profession within the first five years.
High workloads, perceived lack of support, work-life balance and the absence of recognition appear to impact new teachers’ decisions to stay. Some new teachers also report a lack of job security.
Other early-career professionals, such as doctors, are provided with structured support as they transition into their careers. The Australian Institute of Teaching and School Leadership (AITSL) confirms new teachers need similar support.
Some support initiatives have emerged from employment systems, with the funding attached to each new teacher allocated to a school. Even though there are pockets of success, a report found support for new teachers was not equally available to all of them. Here are six ways schools can support new teachers so they can transition successfully into the profession and stay there.
1. Schools and universities should work together
School-university partnerships can be very useful. These partnerships can lead to positive outcomes for all. University staff working in collaboration with school staff can provide informed professional learning designed to build the capacity of mentor teachers to better support new teachers.
It’s in everyone’s best interest to have high quality teachers. University teacher educators can work with school staff as critical friends that can guide and support the implementation of effective mentoring and induction processes. Technology can be used for these connections to overcome the tyranny of distance and time constraints.
2. A planned orientation
When new teachers first arrive in schools, they likely have completed up to four professional experience placements in schools during their university program. But all schools are different, so a planned orientation is most helpful in introducing new teachers to their new workplace. These practices should also be considered for new casual teachers or those employed on long term contracts.
Outlining the size of the school, the number of staff and their roles in the school, the timetable and an overview of the school philosophy can help new teachers feel more comfortable.
As part of any orientation, new teachers need to have access to the school intranet systems before teaching starts so they can access important information about the students in their classes. Information about students is essential in the planning of suitable and supportive lessons. A working knowledge of school resources will also support these new teachers to develop appropriate teaching programs.
Morning tea gatherings and welcome events can ensure newcomers are introduced to staff and the wider school community. A sense of belonging can be maximised through these initiatives and help new teachers develop collegial relationships. The goal is that beginning teachers feel they are connected to and valued in their new school.
3. Allocation of an effective mentor teacher
The selection of a mentor teacher needs to be given careful consideration. While a teacher may be effective in the classroom, it’s important they have the enthusiasm, personal attributes and practices to offer the support and guidance required to be an effective mentor.
Mentor teachers need to be prepared to dedicate time to develop a professional relationship with their mentee (the new teacher). This happens through professional conversations, active listening, confidentiality, trust, modelling lessons, providing feedback, unpacking the requirements for teaching and sharing the mentor’s professional knowledge of teaching.
Teachers who are selected to be mentors should also be supported. To better support new teachers professional learning should be offered to mentors to strengthen their professional knowledge. Such professional learning is available through programs such as the Mentoring for Effective Teaching program and the Mentoring Beginning Teacher program.
As with all professional learning, there needs to be ongoing support and follow-up conversations. University partnerships can help by providing ongoing support for mentors as they guide the development of their mentee.
4. Creating a school community of mentors
Supporting new teachers should be a shared responsibility. Developing a community of mentors within the school culture ensures the sustainability of future mentoring support.
While the mentor may be the first point of call for a new teacher, school leaders and teachers with specific expertise should have the opportunity to participate. School leaders can share their knowledge of key policies and procedures while teachers with particular expertise can share their practices. Through the sharing of mentoring responsibilities new teachers can benefit from support from the whole school.
In-school professional learning for new teachers can also be helpful. Schools have reported innovative ideas such as Visiting Other Teachers programs where experienced teachers share and model their expertise during the new teacher’s non-contact time.
5. Ongoing strategic induction program
Induction can be provided by the mentor teacher but it’s better if a community of mentors are involved to share responsibilities and provide a diversity of expertise. The literature has advocated for some time that new teacher induction be sustained for between one to three years, but most education systems advocate for two years.
The induction is strategic in supporting the beginning teacher because it aligns to the activities in the school calendar. For example, in first term regular meetings may involve topics such as key school policies related to recording attendance, child protection, planning and classroom management. Term two may consist of topics such as writing student reports and parent-teacher interviews.
6. Evaluation of the induction and mentoring program
At the start of any induction and mentoring program, clear objectives must be established. Allocation of funds need to be responsive and adjusted as the developing needs of new teachers are addressed.
For example, as the new teacher transitions to the school, more support is required. So, the allocation of funds needs to correspond. The mentor teacher and the new teacher may need time outside of school hours to share planning or participate in collegial observations to share practices for teaching.
By the beginning of the second year, less funding may be required as the new teacher understands the school context, the requirements and becomes more independent. The induction program and funding should then be modified to adjust to the new teacher’s development.
At the conclusion of each year, induction and mentoring programs can be evaluated against the objectives, with feedback from the mentors, the critical friends and the new teachers. Through reflection and evaluation, future planning can be informed and modified to better support future new teacher induction programs.